Growing up on the Sante Fe Trail by Frank Kermott (1936)

My great great grandfather and his family were one of the first families to travel the Santa Fe Trail. My great grandfather delivered this message and he meanders about quite abit but he does tell of the journey on the trail especially in the second part of his message. – William Kermott

Text of a message given by Frank Kermott (my great grandfather) to the B.Y.P.U. of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Milwaukee, WI. It was written in long-hand, I’ve done my best to transcribe it.
(John Kermott) February 1936

The first time I ever spoke in public was at a Sunday School Entertainment in a large auditorium when I was nine years old in the city of Omaha. I came to the footlights. (tell how). You’d scarce expect one of my age to speak in public on the stage. That was as far as I got. And I feel tonight, when I face you members of the Tabernacle B.Y.P.U. as I did that first night — in fact like a cat in a strange ganil [I’m unsure of the words there. J.K.]

Jimmie Olson, God bless him, in all my life I have never seen anything to my mind more beautiful than little Jimmie in his basket. I had just finished reading in the Wisconsin Baptist of the arrival of Jimmie when who should enter my house but Jimmie’s Father. I said Pastor that’s a conicidence. After reading this article about Jimmie and his church and social events I sat here thinking about Jimmie and here you come.

This led to the subject of my boyhood and my sisters baby hood in the far west and that led to prairie trails and covered wagons and Buffalo Bill and Indians and then Pastor Olson said would I tell the story of the wild west to the young people some Sunday Evening? Now you know when people ask you to call sometime or do something sometime that doesn’t mean anything. So I said maybe sometime if you let me know when. This was Friday — Sunday I shook hands with Pastor and he did not say anything so I naturally concluded that was that — Monday Gordon Bond called and he said that the Pastor had invited me to speak at the Young Peoples meeting and the date was this sabbath evening. I hemmed and hawed and Tuesday I read my sabbath school lesson. Jehova[h] told Jeremiah stand at the gate of the Temple and give my message and Jeremiah said God I’m only a kid if I had the nerve to talk in the court of the Temple I would not know what to say and God said The Temple is your [statue] I will give you the message and stand beside you and Jeremiah said OK. So Tuesday night I called up Gordon and I said O.K. Then Gordon wanted to know the subject of my remarks and I told him I didn’t know and I don’t know yet what I am going to say.

My sister and [I] once attended a homecoming at the Garfield Ave Baptist Church there were several speakers and all had subjects to speak on but me. and Rev. Kanim told the audience, You will notice that I have assigned subjects to all speakers except Kermott. He wouldn’t stick to the subject if I assigned one to him so [ ] we’ll let him flounder along as usual.

It is told that at a civil service Examination for a plumber, the question was asked If you were at the Empire building W. Wisconsin and North Plankinton Ave. and had to go say to the City Hall for some tools on the time of the man for whom the work was being done, what route would you take. The applicant answered I would take a Fondulac, W. Allis Car and ride to West Allis and transfer to a Wells St. car which would land me at the City Hall. The applicant passed his examination. So if you follow me you will hear what my subject is.

The American Baptist Home Mission society was a prime mover in civilizing and bringing to a knowledge of Christ our western country.

About the beginning of the Civil War my father [Rev. William Judson Kermott, born in 1833 in Carolton Co. N.B., Canada] held a pastorate in the town of Almond, New York, happily married [Amanda Kermott, maiden name was Ronian, born in Boston, Erie County, N.Y., Sept. 21, 1836] with one child and everything peaceful and happy and the message came from our Home Missionary society. Our frontier is across the Missouri River. We want a man who is fearless and is willing to carry the gospel of Christ to a rough country. So Father and mother moved to the wild west.

Those were terrible times, roving bands of bushwackers, the bandits of the day, made life miserable and insecure and there they carried on the spread of the gospel.

The pioneer missionaries of the time were devoted to the cause of our savior, had no place to settle down and call home. (If you will pardon the informality I wish you would all pass by here and see these photos which are a fair sample of the pioneers in the cause of Christ, my Father and Mother.) You can see the clerical dress not so much as a sign that he was a clergyman, but more as a policeman suit and star as a protection and a free admission to all places of danger.)

No sooner had peace been declared in the Civil War than word came the point of attack is Santa Fe, New Mexico. No white people except the United States Army and government officials as the army advanced from frontier to frontier…these Pioneer missionaries marched along — Father said to Mother shall we go and mother said to Father, I’ll string along with you.

New Mexico, now the fourth largest state in the union, was many hundreds of miles away to the south with no roads, many rivers without bridges, just the Santa Fe trail. The trail was nothing but a wagon wheel mark in the tall grass. (show map) I was going to a land of blue sky and a lazy shiftless town of Mex King. The Spaniards had been there since they landed on this continent, settled there in 1600, they called the land Poes Teimpo – The land of Pretty Soon, and the inhabitants lived up to their motto. Never do anything today that you can do tomorrow – The Americans called it the Land of Rip Van Winkle.

So we started for the Land of Pretty Soon. our suit in the train consisted of two covered wagons large as today’s travel wagons with high box and the large brownish [?] canvas top over all…box of wagon filled with articles that water would not hurt then articles of family and clothing, on the top of all matress that was both floor and bed of our living room.

Twenty wagons made up the train each wagon managed by a mexican with repeating rifles hanging to the side of the wagon and each driver armed with two six shooter revolvers. Besides mounted cow boys driving a drove of reserve oxen to be used in emergency, none of our our rivers had bridges, and when we came to a swollen stream and when we came to it the oxen doubled up drive [?] swimming along holden to our extreme load.

Pastor Olsen wants to know about Indians. Lucky for us our train was well armed and Indians do not attack anybody or anything that is fortified against them. We caught glimpses of many Indians generally a feather sticking up over the rise of a ridge, but when we came to the rise, no Indian. The grass was so long that they could creep along in the grass and could not be seen. Their favorite mode of attack in force was at morning or evening when travelers were hitching up or unhitching – they came yelling en mass and stampede the horses or mules and make them run away. We were wiser because when Indians tried to stampede oxen the oxen just stood and watched them. Every night we made a coral of wagons in a area out in the open [?]

We saw many abondoned wagons and many fresh graves. We called the Indians snakes in the grass and thought they were cruel and revengeful. But we should have charity… The land was theirs by birth…Good Lord stocked it with droves of Buffalo sometimes numbering thousands. The buffalo furnished their meat and their tents and beds [?] The deer furnished meat and clothes. Flocks of wild turkeys, prairie chickens wild pigeons furnished eggs, food and feathers so dear to an indian. The best things on earth are free.

Travelers through the land in wanton carelessness would start a prarie fire that might spread a hundred miles destroying the food for their ponies and leaving desolation in its way. White men with rifles killed buffalo and deer and with shot guns all the featherd turkeys, and if they settled in one place would fence in the springs of water which were meant for all.

Slow motion movie pictures are chain [?] lightning compared to the way we moved. Two months from Kansas City to Santa Fe. Auto, truck, train, aeroplane, what have you …If I could have my wish today, I would take the covered wagon to the land of Pretty Soon. Santa Fe one story adobe houses dirt floors fleas and more in a house like this my sister Maud Kermott Bond was born.

Can I tell you the difference between that day and this? This October 7th a ball game was played at Detroit. The deciding game in the world series between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. It was the last of the ninth and tied score. Goose Goslin at bat. Mickie Corlovan on 2nd, the sound of ball meeting bat for a base hit winning the game for Detroit was heard, not only in every radio in America, but was carried short wave by every radio in the world. While we were in the land of Pretty Soon President Abraham Lincoln was assasinated in Washington and it was two weeks before the news reached us. Then came orders from the Home Missionary Society…Omaha Nebraska is the new focal point for missions.

Rail roads are being built from Chicago west. A Rail Road bridge is to be built across the Missouri River. A Rail Road is going to be built from Omaha west and San Fransisco east and the frontier would disappear. So the trek back across the plains was started only now the tension between the white and red race was more tangled. Soon we were halted by U.S. soldiers and told we could not proceed until there were 100 wagons in the train…after the 100 wagons had been collected we went along as before stretched out for two miles arriving back at Kansas City we bade Good bye to the covered wagon and many happy experiences.

We traveled north from Kansas City by side wheel steamboat on the turbid Missouri River. On the boat we had the worst indian scare of our experiences. At break of day one morning there was a crash and the boat ceased to move but a terrible racket continued. Every body jumped out of bed and came running into the main cabin. There we discovered that the steamer had hit a tree growing out under the water and the paddles kept hitting the tree —

Omaha was a wild city. Tame indians and soldiers filled the streets and there was great activity in building and basin. The First Baptist Church of Omaha, the mother church of many sister churches, was organized and a modern church building was erected. The Bridge across the Missouri was completed . Kipley said, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. Kipley (…) is wrong. A train going west from Omaha met a train going east from San Francisco and west and East were one.

I met a man the other day whose address is New Zealand. He comes home to England by way of San Francisco and back to New Zealand through the Suez Canal. Next trip he [?] New Zealand [?] Suez Canal and back by way of New York…East is East and West is West and the twain have met.

[So back to the states always organizes and churches and picks up church buildings] [?] His most cherished work was the founding and building of the Garfield Ave. church miles away. That was 50 years ago but today the Garfield Ave church and the Garfield Ave B.Y.P.U. are bright lights in Milwaukee church life. Fathers wish was that he be buried from Garfield Ave church and that his remains rest in Forest Home Cemetary. Mother at the death of Father was called to the assistant pastorate in Tremont Temple Boston – at her death we brought the remains to Milwaukee and she is buried beside her beloved at Forest Home.

Members of the BYPU your station every sabbath day is right here your message will by given you. If you do not hear the message to speak or pray, come anyway and testify for Christ by being present. One of the most loyal supporters of the BYPU was never heard to talk out loud in meeting yet it seemed as though anything was bursting around him because he was always there.

David said to the Lord, I live in a house of cedar my Lord dwells in a tent.

The house of my Lord should be better than the house of his servant. But the Lord said no that is for your son Solomon to build. You gather the money together and Solomon will build the house. I love the service of the house of the Lord but I also love the building set aside as God’s home. I have often heard the remark I can worship God in a barn as well as in a church. These people are either to lazy to build a home for God or too stingy to give the money to build it. Your BYPU is the training school for the church and each spring there are drawn from your ranks Deacons, Trustees, and other officials of the church. The last Trustee and church custodian was the Elder Tidney Bjork and one of the thrills I have had was when my eyes were failing and Bros. Bjork and Glenther crawled into the attic and gave us our first good lights. Two Sundays ago I stood in the auditorium looking up at the new sky light and there was your Bob Boggestand telling how the Trustees got the sky light in and what it cost and how we managed to pay for it.

The game between the Tabernacle army of the Lord against the works of Satan is held every sabbath day in this February. The quarterback Sunday school supernaturals give the signal for the kick off. If the first quarter is played with reverence and enthusiasm we have touch downs.

2nd quarter coach and full back kicks off and the spirit of Christ accumulates from the 1st quarter results in more touchdowns.

3rd Quarter starting 2nd half if the BYPU carries the ball with the help of God keeps up the good work. I once heard a teacher make a speech full of ands and buts one of the most [convincing ] [?] speeches I have ever heard. I stayed. Stay for the last quarter and take your Christian friend into the last quarter and hand the ball to the Pastor the score will be many touchdowns for Christ none for the devil.


Last Sunday Evening I attempted to tell of some of my journeys as a boy in telling my tale I made so many detours that closing time came and I had not finished I was foolish enough to say I had not finished – and that is where Billy Kermott says I fumbled the ball. If I had closed the book and said good bye I would have been all right but Marie Kaffer whispered to Gordon and Gordon was on the ball and announced that Uncle Frank would continue the story tonight. When I talk I am something like the plumber apprentice who was taking an examination to become a licensed plumber. The question was, supposing you were working in the Cuswise building at W. Wisconsin Ave. and N, Plankinton Ave. and say the shop was the City Hall on Market square and you had to go back for the tools on the time of the owner of the building, what route would you take. The applicant anwswered I would take a Fondulac and West Allis car at the corner and ride to West Allis transfer to a Wells Farewell car and that would land me at the City Hall and I would return the same way. The applicant passed the examination.

After being out of a BYPU meeting for 30 years when asked to speak I thought it would be hard to find anything to talk about. But when I was asked to speak again tonight I felt like the banker of a little negro bank in the back woods of Alabama. All the stockholders and officers and depositors were negros. Moses had saved up $300 and decided to deposit the money in the negro bank. After a time he moved to Birmingham and decided to move his money to the white man’s bank in Birmingham. He went to the cashier and explained the matter and the casheir filled out a draft that Moses signed and the white cashier forwarded the draft to the negro bank. In the course of time the draft was returned marked N.S.F. (Not Sufficient Funds) The white banker was peeved and wrote a sharp letter to the negro bank and received this reply. “Us don’t mean Moses aint got sufficient funds. Us means us aint got sufficient funds.”

Last Sunday evening I started to tell of the travels of the covered wagon. It is the story of my father and mother . Pionere Home Missionaries. Members of that band of fearless, strong, spiritually and physically, sent out by the American Baptist ;Missionary Society. To help colonize and bring the word of God to the far off. The first station had been Leavenworth Kansas. Then word came the frontier of western missions is to be Santa Fe New Mexico. Your next station is there, 850 miles from Kansas City, over the Santa Fe Trail. The so called Santa Fe Trail was just a wheel track in the grass no road no bridges across the creek and rivers. So in the covered wagon we started the journey. The missionary Board had, in their wisdom [said] the Santa Fe Trail would be the route of the First Railroad and we showed this map showing the route of the First Rail Road which was built almost exactly along the old wagon mark in the grass called the Santa Fe Trail. (show map)

We traveled the trail 14 miles a day 2 months…

Then we turned the pages ahead 70 years and Gordon Bond told us of the third Santa Fe Trail, the concrete highway that follows along next to the Rail Road right of way.

I thought I was pretty smart procuring these maps until I listened to Pastor last Sunday on the trickery of Jacob. I did not want to ask the North Western Rail Road for a map of the Santa Fe Rail Road, and I did not want to tell them that I was contemplating a trip to the coast, so I said to the ticket agent, “Do you sell tickets to the cost via U.P. R.R. and return via Santa Fe, and would it make any difference if the trip was made to the coast via Santa Fe and return via U.P.R.R.???” And by that time he had handed me all the maps I wanted and I said, “Much obliged, Good Bye.” After hearing Pastor Olson ‘s Sermon I would have taken the maps back and explained, if I had not spoiled them with red crayons.

I went into the book store and inquired about a King James Version of the Holy Bible. The Book seller showed me a beautiful bible and said it was the King James Version, and I opened the Bible and found that the bookseller was a liar. I told my girls that I thought he was the meanest liar I had ever seen and here I had been faking R.R. maps to show the Tabernacle BYPU.

So we journeyed to the land of the blue sky where the Spaniards had settled in the 1600’s , the land of Poco Tiempo, the land of pretty soon, where nothing was done to day that could be done to morrow. We lived in part of a great house half a block square , walls of adobe, no outside windows. The door was an unusual gate opening to the street. Through this came people and live stock in to a great court the house of the human, little donkey, chickens and dogs. In this house of mud walls with a dirt floor my sister Maud Kermott Bond was born, the mother of Gordon and Marie.

Let Gordon tell of Santa Fe.

Do you have an age limit in the membership of the BYPU? In my time people were eligible to membership whose ages ran between the age of 16 and 35. Well do I remember the Saturday when I reached the ripe old age of 35. I felt like Methusalah, and I thought I should resign from the BYPU. Do you know who Methusalah was? An Ante-diluvian, that’s what a preacher I knew, when he heard an old story, would say instead of [thats a chestnut,] and it means before the flood. Before Noah, and this Methusalah lived to be 969 years old. I felt that way when I was 35, but never since. When asked to speak last Sabbath Evening I thought to speak to young people between the ages of 20-35m and when I looked at my audience there was a 7 year old sitting next to a 70 year old right in the front row and I tried to talk in between and they both thought I was talking to them alone and Pastor Olson spoke up and wanted to know why I was looking at him….

But I must hurry or I will fumble the ball again.

I am reminded of a passenger on a Wisconsin Ave. car in a hurry to reach the N. W. depot. Then he said to the motor-man, “Can’t you run any faster than this?” and the motor-man said, “Yes, Mister, I can run faster than this, but I have to stay in the car.”

Do you know what a Madonna is? It is a picture of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus in her arms. and is reverenced especially by Christians of the Roman Catholic faith — Tradition says that the beloved physician companion of Paul was not only a physician but also an artist and was the first to paint a picture of the Madonna. Pictures of the Madonna were discovered as early as the 5th Century and the greatest pictures of the Madonna were painted in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Italian Masters. The name has come to apply to any young beautiful mother and her baby.

The Tabernacle church is blessed with a Madonna…Mrs. Olson and little Jimmie in his basket. The Mexicans looked with reverence on mother and her baby and she became known as the Madonna of Santa Fe, a fact which afterwards saved our lives.

Can I illustrate the diametrical diffenence between the times we are talking about and to day. Abraham Lincoln was assasinated in 1865. A four mule stage coach with a conway hastened to bring us the news …we heard the news 2 weeks after he was shot. This October in 1935, at Navies Field in Detroit, before 50,000 fans a game of baseball was played between the Chicago Cubs of the National League and the Detroit Tigers of the American League. It was the last half of the ninth inning the score a tie. In addition to the 50,000 at Navies field, there were millions of people all over the world listening at their radios. Reeny Ford was heading the greatest advertising undertaking of this life. He had brought the National Broadcasting system, the Columbian and Mutual system and short wave broad cast to the whole world.

Mickie Corcoran was on 2nd, Goose Goslin at bat. Gordy Hartwell gave the signal the ball was pitched. The bat hit the ball for a base hit and Mickie Corcoran came home with the run. That made the Detroit Tigers base ball champions of the world. The sound of the bat hitting the ball was carried every radio in North and South America, Europe Asia and Africa and the islands of the sea and the speed was such that bat and ball meeting was heard in China before it was heard in the grand stand at Navies Park.

More prophetic news from the Home Mission Society…They said in their message your work at Santa Fe is completed…the new frontier is Omaha, Neb.

Railroads will be built from Chicago to Omaha. A R.R. bridge will be built across the Missouri River. A railroad will start west from Omaha to the Pacific coast , a railroad will start at San Francisco and meet this road at Ogden.

Father started immediately by stage coach to Kansas City with a guard of Cavalry. Mother again loaded her babies and her possesions into the covered wagon and the long journey back over the Santa Fe trail. Our train was composed of 20 wagons again but we came to a camp of soliers and were commanded to halt until there were 100wagons in the train. When we again started the line of wagons stretched for two miles on the trail.

One dark night as we sat around a campfire, there suddently crept from under the wagon, an Indian Chief followed by a score of braves. These were the first Indians we had seen with thie war paint on, and carrying ther tomahawks. Resistance was useless, the manager of the train knowing that they had broken our defenses, sensed that in all probablility there were hundreds more concealed in the long grass; so he welcomed the Indians peacefully, and inquired to what he was honored by the pleasure of their visit.

The chief said too many white people had come into their country which was bad, and the red men had decided in council that no white people should be allowed to leave their country alive. Instead of antagonizing the chief, he complimented him on his wisdom, and the wisdom of his warriers; but, he said, “We have no white people in this train–we are designated to guard and deliver to her people, the Madonna of Santa Fe.” Mother stood up, her shawl fell from her shoulders, and holding her little baby in the hollow of her arms, she reached down and patted my head as I clung to her skirts, and smiled at the chief. The Mexican train manager removed his hat, and bowed on one knee as if in worship, and the miracle happened! Slowly, the chief and his warriors backed away, and disappeared into the darkness.

I have said much of the bravery, both spiritual and physical, of the Pioneer Missionaries. May I say that the hardship and dangers were born equally well by the consecrated women who followed their men into the wilderness. Today there is being cast, statues by direction of the Daughters of the American Revolution, commemorating the bravery of the early women of the western trails. These statures are gigantic, eighteen-feet high and by strange coincidence, to the descendents of Amanda Kermott, the Madonna had three figures–Mother and daughter, and little son at her side. One of these will stand guard over the Santa Fe Trail.

The travel in the interior of the south and west of the new domain of the US was mostly flat-bottomed side wheel steamer that traveled the Mississippi, Missouri, and some of the larger streams from the east. From Kansas City we traveled north on the Missouri River…on the boat we had our worst Indian score…(see story from first message.)

Omaha was a bustling city filled with peaceful Indians and soldiers. A church was organized and a large building erected. The Church was the first Baptist Church of Omaha and became the mother church of Eastern Nebraska. The R.R. bridge across the Missouri was completed…a great engineering feat. I have photographs of the Birdge and the church in process of building. Rail roads reached Omaha from Chicago. Railroad was built west from Omaha and East from San Francisco. They met at Ogden and a golden spike was driven in the last rail. There was an engine from the east touching an engine from the west. Kipling says East is East and West is West and neither the twain shall meet, but the twain met east is west and west is East.

I know some people who originally came from England. Their present home and business is in New Zealand. They periodically go home to England. They sail from New Zealand to San Francisco, to Milwaukee, to New York to England and when they go home they just keep going through the Mediteranian through the Suez Canal, the Indian Ocean, Australia, New Zealand. The next time home they reverse…Australia, Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Meditteranian, England and home via New Yourk, Milwaukee, San Francisco and boat for New Zealand.

So back to the states.

Father had several pastorates…the people and place he loved best was Milwaukee. He founded and built the Garfield Ave. Church in this city. His wish was that when he died he be buried from the Garfield Ave. Church and rest in Forest Home. His wish wsa granted. Mother was still active, and received a call to be pastor assistant at Tremont Temple boston. At her death her body was brought to Milwaukee and rests beside her mate at Forest Home.

At the great University of Wisconsin is a great football team with a great coach. If they do not click they can not win. The man in the backfield has the ball. He may be able to Kick like the great Egersdel, or pass like Rockney or run like Grange, but he does none of these. Before he can kick, pass or run the opposing eleven are on him like a thousand bricks, and he is thrown for a loss. The men on his own team do not help him. They fail to block the opposing team and he goes down for a loss, and his team loses.

Our Sunday School lesson today was Daniel standing alone before the King Belshazzar who had been a part of the worst histories in the annals of the world. All his harem and 1000 lords all young men and the King allowing them to drink from the Holy vessels taken from the Temple at Jerusalem. That was in the forgotten past. What about tonight as we sit here. This Sabbath night the people of Milwaukee have gone back to the time of Belshazzar. The Elks Club, the Hotel Schroder, the Athletic club, a 1000 taverns defying God almighty. You know what they are doing. Now what about the Christian Churches of Milwaukee? Instead of Standing up against the gigantic evils the churches are dark, the doors locked and Milwaukee Christans have taken to the woods. Pastor Olson says I am not afraid. God willing the Tabernacle Baptist Chruch will blaze with light and resound to the songs of praise!

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